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Sunday, October 19
Johnson Stretches Point Lead With Martinsville Win
By Reid Spencer, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- At the same track where he started his phenomenal run to the title last year, Jimmie Johnson distanced himself from his closest pursuers on Sunday, winning the Tums QuikPak 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson won in a cakewalk, leading 339 of 504 laps. His No. 48 Chevrolet was so good on short runs, and so strong off the corners, runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t mount a charge during the green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race four laps past its scheduled length.
“I didn’t have a good enough drive up off the corner to catch Jimmie,” said Earnhardt, who gained one position to ninth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings but fell to 379 points behind his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. “They had such an excellent racecar. I did the best I could to protect my position.
“I didn’t have anything for Jimmie. His car was so awesome. We were spinning the tires up off the corner, and that’s where we got beat.”
Even with the short green-flag run at the end, Johnson stretched his advantage to .708 seconds at the finish. Carl Edwards ran third, followed by Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Casey Mears, as Hendrick placed all four of its cars in the top six.
Greg Biffle recovered a lap he lost during an off-sequence green-flag pit stop on Lap 248 and finished 12th to move into second place in the Chase standings. But it’s second and long: Biffle is 149 points behind Johnson with four races left in the season.
Penalized one lap for pitting outside his box late in the race, Jeff Burton came home 17th and dropped one position to third in the standings, 152 points behind the leader. Despite his career-best finish at Martinsville, Edwards is fourth, 198 points behind Johnson.
Biffle, Burton and Edwards are chasing an abundantly confident No. 48 team heading for tracks where Johnson has excelled in the past. After last year’s victory at Martinsville, Johnson won consecutive races at Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix to seize control of the Chase entering the season finale at Homestead-Miami.
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick (right) congratulates Jimmie Johnson on his win...
This season is different. Johnson already has control heading to Atlanta, and the attitude of the team was evident in crew chief Chad Knaus’ words as Johnson crossed the finish line.
“That’s what you call points racing -- getting them all,” Knaus said.
Don’t expect Johnson to try to sit on his lead.
“I think we really need to go out and do the same stuff,” said Johnson, who won his sixth race of the year and the 39th of his career. “We can’t lose this points lead. We’ve got to go out and swing at it -- and that’s what we’re best at.
“Truly, we feel confident at all the tracks left on the schedule.”
Besides tying Tim Flock for 15th in career wins, Johnson moved one step closer to a third straight Cup title, a feat accomplished previously only by Cale Yarborough (1976-1978).
“Today was big step in the right direction,” Johnson said. “As long as I can stay scared and on my heels and worried about losing this thing, the better this team is going to be. If we start getting comfortable and complacent, we’re going to stub our toes and we’re going to make mistakes.”
Complete Race Results click here
Post-Race Point Standings click here
NASCAR Newscast - Martinsville Review click here
Jeff Gordon, a seven-time Martinsville winner, posted fast time in Saturday's final practice session.
Saturday's Final Practice Speed Chart click here
Race 6 in the Chase: TUMS QuikPak 500
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Track: .526-mile oval
The Distance: 500 laps/263 miles
TV: ABC, 2 p.m. (AT)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2007 Polesitter: Jeff Gordon
Pre-Race Schedule: Friday—Practice, 12-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:40 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 12:50 -1:50 p.m.
Year-To-Date Race Results & Driver Point Standings click here
Broadcast Times - AT*
Practice: Friday Oct 17 at 1 p.m. (ESPN2)
Qualifying: Friday Oct 17 at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2, TSN2 & Sirius Satellite Radio)
Practice: Saturday Oct 18 at 1:30 p.m. (SPEED)
RaceDay: Sunday Oct 19 at Noon (SPEED)
Pre-Race: Sunday Oct 19 at 2 p.m. (ABC & TSN2)
Race: Sunday Oct 19 at 2:30 p.m. (ABC, TSN2 & Sirius Satellite Radio)
*AT is one hour ahead of ET, i.e. if it's 2 p.m./AT - it's 1 p.m./ET...
Qualifying Notes & Starting Lineup
Jimmie Johnson will start on the pole for Sunday's race after rain washed out qualifying and the field was set per the NASCAR rule book, by
owner points. Jeff Burton will start second. Read post-rainout comments from both drivers here...
Complete Starting Lineup click here
- Jeff Burton Establishes Himself As Title Contender...As the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup reaches its mid-point, there have been ample storylines touting the top contenders for the championship.
First, there was the attention given to Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota), who dominated the season’s first 26 races by winning eight times to lock up the Chase’s No. 1 seed.
Then, there was the underdog story of Greg Biffle (No. 16 DISH Network Ford), who came out of nowhere to win the first two races of the Chase. Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) has also been at the forefront, as he maintained a firm hold of positioning himself among the top two spots.
The past couple weeks, the focus has been on Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), as the two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has demonstrated he’s not going to relinquish his crown without a battle.
Now, based upon his Bank of America 500 victory last Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway coupled with his consistent performance over the first half of the Chase, you can add another name to the list of contenders for the 2008 series championship — veteran Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet).
Burton has indeed been a model of consistency throughout this season and as a result, has been flying under the radar somewhat. However, he has been in the top 12 the entire season, and for a four-week stretch early on (after the first Martinsville race until after the first Richmond race), he was the series points leader. In fact, he’s only strayed outside the top five in points four times this season.
Burton won his 21st career NASCAR Sprint Cup race last Saturday at LMS. It was his second win of 2008, marking the first time since 2001 he has posted more than one victory in a season. Burton is no stranger to competing for a series title. He finished third in the 2000 standings, fourth in 1997 and posted back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 1998-99.
Burton says he gets a special feeling when he competes at Martinsville, the .526-mile short track located just 50 miles from his hometown of South Boston, Va.
“There’s no question, when I come to Martinsville, it’s different,” said Burton. “There are a lot of people who supported us when no one knew who we were who are still in the stands today. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Burton has one win (2nd race of 1997), seven top fives and 17 top 10s at Martinsville. Burton knows that the tricky short track can quickly wreak havoc.
“I’ve got a feeling some things will happen with some of the Chase contenders this week at Martinsville,” said Burton.
- Jimmie Johnson Pads Lead: Points Toward Third Straight Championship...Two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson takes a 69-point lead into Race 6 of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at a venue where he has nearly a flawless record during his career. Since his first race at Martinsville Speedway in 2002, Johnson has posted four wins, 12 top-10 and nine top-five finishes.
Johnson is attempting to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive series championships. Cale Yarborough accomplished the feat from 1976-77-78. While his 69-point lead over Jeff Burton may seem a bit secure, recent history indicates otherwise. The points leader with five races remaining has failed to win the championship in each of the past two seasons.
In 2006, Johnson was in seventh place and 146 points behind leader Jeff Burton with five races to go. Johnson went on to win his first title by 56 points, a swing of 202 points.
Last season, Johnson was in second place, 68 points behind teammate Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Johnson won the championship by 77 points, a 145-point swing.
- Martinsville Makes Some Upgrades...Martinsville Speedway has made some improvements to its facility since the spring race, including:
A new video display scoreboard has been installed. Positioned 86 feet above the ground in the center of the infield, the scoring tower is now topped by three 30x20 feet video screens that will be utilized by Sprint Vision on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends.
The old pit road surface was removed during the summer and the asphalt was replaced with concrete.
The entrance gate to the infield has been reworked to allow for the installation of roughly 100 feet of SAFER barrier to cover the Turn 4 pit gate and the exit of Turn 4.
The infield media center has doubled in size and has enhanced its amenities.
- Martinsville Milestone...Sunday’s event marks the 120th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in 1949, with Red Byron driving Raymond Parks’-owned Oldsmobile to Victory Lane. Richard Petty’s 15 NSCS victories at Martinsville is the most by any driver.
- Manufacturers’ Battle Still Tight...The 2008 Manufacturers’ championship battle remains tight, with Toyota holding a slim six-point lead over Chevrolet (189-183). Ford is third with 178 points, while Dodge is fourth with 132 points. Chevrolet has won a total of 30 Manufacturers’ titles, including the previous five in a row.
- Mike Bliss to Pilot The No. 00 Toyota...Veteran driver Mike Bliss will attempt to qualify and race the No. 00 Champion Mortgage Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend at Martinsville. In the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Bliss has 13 career wins, 18 poles, 61 top-five and 107 top-10 finishes. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Bliss has racked up one win, three poles, 20 top-five and 50 top-10 showings. The No. 00 Toyota is currently 63 points out of the top 35.
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